In the prologue to Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book on the war in Afghanistan, a young Marine corporal approaches a State Department political adviser who is visiting his outpost. “Sir, I just hope this all adds up,” the corporal says, “All of my friends are getting hurt over here.” The corporal receives no answer, but by the conclusion of “Little America,” the reader does. The corporal’s friends will have been killed or wounded in vain.
Americans are a historyless people. We are constantly being told by wishfully thinking leaders that history does not apply to us, that we are its “exception.” Unfortunately, we are not, which is why it bears repeating that what the Obama administration is attempting to do in Afghanistan bears a striking resemblance to what the United States attempted in Vietnam. Nguyen Van Thieu, our man in Saigon, headed a coterie of fellow generals, politicians and their greedy wives who excelled at thievery and bequeathed us one of the fundamental lessons of the Vietnam War, that one cannot build upon the quicksand of corruption a sound government and army that will stand up to its opponent. When the moment of truth came in 1975, after the United States had pulled out its combat forces and the North Vietnamese army launched another offensive, the Saigon regime simply collapsed, its well-equipped troops abandoning their weapons and fleeing so fast that the opposition had difficulty catching up to them.